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Jim Bonney, creator of the Best Selling CD "Emotional Preparations for Actors: How to Get Into the Emotional Life of a Scene" will teach you how to use the imaginary world to create a powerful performance, how to connect to meanings and use actions.

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Learning by Viewing: Teaching Acting Through
Instructional Videos

By Simi Horwitz

BackStage, January 23-29, 2004, pgs 25-26

In an era when videotapes, DVDs, CDs, and audio-cassette recordings are available for virtually every self-help and self-improvement project under the sun (from slimming exercises to building kitchen cabinets), can teaching acting via recording-or attempting to-be far behind? Well, it's not. Indeed, there is an ample handful ready to be plucked-at a price of $20 to $60 on average-at various theatre bookstores and on the Internet right now. The best known, perhaps, are the "Uta Hagen's Acting Class: and Michael Caine's "Acting in Film."

But there are many others and they run the gamut in terms of what they purport to do and how they do it…

To Access Feeling

One of the more striking recordings-it's a CD, to be precise-is acting teacher Jim Bonney's "Emotional Preparations for the Actor: How to Get Into the Emotional Life of a Scene." Put simply, this CD attempts to arouse feelings in the listener. Strictly speaking, Bonney, founder of New York City's Jim Bonney Acting Studio, is not teaching acting on the CD. Instead, he is helping the actor hook into certain emotions that may have application to something the actor is working on-whether he is rehearsing a scene or preparing for an audition.

"Through guided imagery, the CD evokes four basic emotions-sadness, fear, anger, and happiness," Bonney insists. "I call these audiotapes an emotional tune-up. They help the actor become emotionally alive before he even starts to perform."

To conjure a feeling of well-being ("happiness") in the actor, Bonney describes a beach scene, complete with warm sun and lapping water. In his "fear" track, he vocally recreates the world of a haunted house at three in the morning: the sense of darkness, isolation, and things that unaccountably go bump in the night. For "sadness," he talks about irrevocable loss, reminding the listener of people he or she loved who are no longer present. In the "anger" section, Bonney brings to life a scenario in which a woman hands over her baby to an unsuspecting person on the street and tells him to take care of it.

"My challenge was to create a CD with a common language that would translate the words into feelings," Bonney says. "I don't believe you can learn acting from a book or tape. But you can evoke feelings, which is a first major step. You are not acting unless you are feeling something. I am in the process of writing a book that will accompany the CDs and offer a step-by-step approach to getting at your feelings. These CDs and the upcoming book are not in lieu of an acting class. They are in addition to an acting class."

Actor Jeffry Denman ("Cats," "The Producers"), who uses Bonney's CD to generate the appropriate feelings prior to an audition, a rehearsal, or a performance, suggests that it does indeed work for him. "It is a palpable way of getting to the essence of acting quickly. I've used it on sets and in dressing rooms. I continue to take acting classes, but the CD keeps the emotional cells going. What I like most about the CD," he continues, "is that you're not reliant on it. After you've listened to it a few times, you can recreate the experience of the CD on your own, without listening to it."

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Releasing That Magical Child Within You
By Jim Bonney
Soul of The American Actor, Fall 2002

Acting, above all, is emotion connected to words and actions. Although it can be intellectual or intellectualized, the attraction to the audience is the life that the actors bring to the stage and to the camera. The actor has to create moment-to-moment the life of the character and then endeavor to live truthfully so that the audience has an experience. Within the first ten minutes of a play, the audience either forgets that they are watching actors and is drawn into the experience of the story or they're not. All good acting techniques try to get the actor to be alive on stage. The inherent problem in training actors is that they come with inhibitions and defenses they are sometimes unaware of. Their emotional life is restricted to the limit they have used in their everyday life and their personal history. In other words, you cannot do a hundred pushups if you are only used to doing ten. You have to practice and build the muscle.

In the process-oriented training of the actor, most techniques get the actor to experience feelings, but again it is limited to where the actor comes from and what they have gone through in their life. In my experience, you cannot just fight to hit those highs and lows. It is your ability to express you feelings and your capacity to go deeply into your emotions that counts. You don't train opera singers by having them sing only middle notes, you have them practice singing highs and lows.

So I stretch the emotional life of every actor I work with by going through a set of exercises using sound and movement to get the actor to feel things and express things they would never do in regular life. This is not merely making noise or jumping around, or doing improv or theater games. The exercise that I have devised pinpoint the holding blocks of each individual actor so that they eventually can fully express and open up doors that they have locked in side themselves.

When I train actors who have considerable training and experience under their belts, they tend to conceptualize and play the same emotional notes over and over again. They are comfortable, of course, with what works and what has gotten them jobs, but they wonder why they have lost their passion for their work. Yet I don't take away what works from an actor, but there is more to each performer than they have ever imagined. After I've worked with them, every performance they do expands and they go into a wonderful new territory that they did not even know was there. It's really not about me. I' am more or less the gatekeeper who opens the gate to their creativity. I get them to physicalize, vocalize, and use their imaginary world in a way they never have before. They eventually become their own gatekeeper to be powerful and free, it's what all actors hope for and dream of. I also show actors where they hold feelings and help express them. They then take those feelings and put them into text.

Jim Bonney - Acting Teacher/Director/Actor. Mr. Bonney created MeisnerPlus™, incorporating his own unique emotional and body work with the Meisner Technique, and has trained hundreds of actors, singers, directors at his studio in New York City. As an actor, he has appeared on all the major soap operas and his TV and film includes America's Most Wanted, Today's FBI, Mike Hammer, Saturday Night Live, Legal Eagles, Big, and Preppies. On stage he was seen in Men Without Dates, The Last Mile, and also directed Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at the John Houseman Theatre and Pirates of Penzance at the Herberger Theatre (Phoenix). Mr. Bonney was trained by Kathryn Gately, and eventually co-taught with her, and also studied with Warren Robertson, Bill Hickey, and Pamela Lincoln.


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Jim Bonney Studio
(917) 721-7278

I remember years ago working as an assistant teacher in a Meisner class, two actors were at a table going through a scene. The teacher was as stuck as the actors were, there was no life going on. I was sitting in the gallery and made a sign to the teacher to let me help them. I went over to them and proceeded to help them move their energy into their bodies. The actors exploded with life. The students and teacher alike looked at me like I was from another planet. I realized then that every actor to a certain extent holds within their body all the feelings they will ever need. They just need to be shown how to release those feelings in a safe and supportive atmosphere. It's about getting out of your head and into your body.

The concept of my teaching and actor training is based on the idea that actors became actors is the experience to create. There is a thrill using the power within yourself that cannot be matched by anything else. My work endeavors to open up the actor that magical child within them that wants to experience and express. If you don't believe me, go to a playground where there are young children. You usually can tell three blocks away that you're going into a high-energy zone. Very young children laugh and cry and express themselves fully and easily, until they are trained by parents, culture, teachers not to do so. We all start to solidify as we get older. Only the truly young at heart stay vibrant, curious, excited, and truthful their whole life. So in other words, all acting teachers and directors would be out of jobs if people could just become the child they were at a very early age and put that energy and life into the playwright's words.

2002 - Written exclusively for "The Soul of the American Actor"

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