- Lee Strasberg
I’ve been acting since I was eight years old.
Believe it or not, I was one of the obnoxious children on the Art Linkletter show. On the show I announced that I was switching professions from a CIA Agent to an Actress— primarily because I could skip school, and all the nice people on set gave me all the free grilled cheese sandwiches and orange sherbet I so desired. Thank God my reasons for acting grew in scope as I got older. Then, fortunately, one day I was chosen to be a member of The Actor’s Studio and trained with the great Lee Strasberg.
When I finally began writing my first book, “The Whip”—inspired by the true story of the famous Wells Fargo stagecoach driver, Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879)—I realized that I was subconsciously using many of the acting techniques I had learned through my years as an actress. It seemed to work for me, so I always suggest to writers to explore an introductory acting class. I believe the exercises one learns as an actor are incredibly helpful to a writer.
Actors are trained to be athletes of their emotions. A writer must access their own emotions as well; to write not just from their heads, but from their hearts and their unique feelings.
The character Charley Parkhurst goes through extraordinary loss in “The Whip.” So I ask, what exactly is loss to you personally? We all experience loss in different ways. Let's say, as an example, you feel rage, hopelessness. So, how do you access these emotions that you might have felt in the past?
At the Actor’s Studio, I was taught what is called “method acting.” It’s a process where you use all of your senses to experience a time when you were feeling the emotion you want to portray. When you are successful, you are able to translate that true feeling into the character (yourself) at a precise moment in time to use as an artist.
Here is a very basic 'sense memory' exercise for you to try:
First, you must find a quiet, private space. Get yourself into a state of relaxation. With the emotion you want to access in mind, think back to when you have experienced it. A specific time, a specific place … Ask yourself, who were the people you were with? What did you see? What did you hear? What did it smell like? What were you wearing? What was the weather? And on and on… The more questions you ask yourself, the better.
Now, see if you can picture yourself experiencing the emotion you have chosen. Watch yourself experience it as if you were in a movie. Do you feel uncomfortable, as though you want to stop the feelings? If so, push through it and start to write using those true feelings. Channel through them and get down on paper what those feelings look like, feel like, smell like, taste like… Take yourself through this exercise. The moment you feel empty, write what it feels like to feel nothing. What does 'empty' feel like? Write about that, as it may turn into something else.
There are also acting exercises to teach you 'improvisation' with other actors. This, of course, is how you create dialogue. As a writer, you improvise with your characters within the scene. There are so many wonderful exercises that might assist your writing that comes from acting training.
I suggest being brave and tracking down an acting class—whether in a college or community theater ... ask around ... and see if this might help you with your writing. It certainly will make you bolder and braver—another important attribute for the writer.
She completed her schooling at San Francisco State College, The University of Vienna and The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), after which she began her career in New York. Her first professional work was in the award winning production of Michael Cacoyannis’ The Trojan Women at the Circle in the Square Theatre.
Her theater career has included starring opposite Ed Harris in Sweet Bird of Youth, Richard Chamberlain in Richard II (dir. Jonathan Miller), Stacy Keach in Hamlet, (dir. Gordon Davidson), Ray Stricklyn in Vieux Carre (West Coast Premiere-Beverly Hills Playhouse, dir. Clyde Ventura, which she also produced). She also starred in Eduardo Machado’s off-Broadway play, Broken Eggs (World Premiere, dir. James Hammerstein).
She won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in The Rose Tattoo, in which her work as actor and producer so impressed Tennessee Williams that they became friends and he gave her carte blanche to produce any of his work in his lifetime.
Other awards and nominations include Ovation, Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and Garlands for: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Berkeley Rep.), Orpheus Descending (Fountain Theatre, dir. Simon Levy), Night of the Iguana (Old Globe, dir. Jack O’Brien), Lady House Blues, Freedomland (South Coast Rep, dir. David Emmes), The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Fountain Theatre, dir. Simon Levy), Master Class (Fountain Theatre, Odyssey Theatre, Lobero Theater, dir. Simon Levy).
She has appeared as series regular lead in CBS’s Shannon and guest starred in over 50 television shows and films including, TNT’s James Dean with James Franco (dir. Mark Rydell), NYPD Blue, Frasier, Steal Big Steal Little with Alan Arkin, Yes Giorgio with Luciano Pavarotti, and played Kate Holliday in Showdown at OK-Corral (David Wolper’s award-winning series).
Karen is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She is also a member of Women in Film.
Kondazian is a multi-award winning novelist. Her debut novel, The Whip, won the USA News Award for Best Historical Fiction and also the National Indie Excellence Award for Best Western. It was featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly. She is also the author of the best-selling book The Actors Encyclopedia of Casting Directors, with a foreword by Richard Dreyfuss. Her long running weekly column, “Sculpting Your Own Career” appeared in L.A. STAGE, BackStage, and DramaLogue.
She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
Official Website of The Whip & Karen Kondazian
The Whip audio book trailer. Audio book narrated by Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane/HBO's Deadwood)