Ron Burrus, one of the top acting coaches in the world, and a disciple of the infamous and revered acting guru Stella Adler, was in Bogotá last week conducting an intensive course on auditioning and acting for the camera
Based in Los Angeles and Manhattan, Ron Burrus has conducted classes across the world, including Japan, Mexico and India. The knowledge he imparted to our class of international students included far more than angles, body positioning and voice modulation.
Even something as fundamental as accessing vocabulary stems from a prior understanding of what words to use and when. In acting, however, the past is secondary and the actor must understand that they are experiencing the character’s journey through the scenes as they play out (presently) before an audience.
Burrus explained, “The inner life of a character on stage is expressed through the body and on camera through the eyes.” In either case the experience is of the moment as it resonates with other actors and viewers.
“Ron is not just an acting teacher. He understands the human condition and helps you understand it and put it into action in your acting,” said Colombian actor Sebastian Eslava (who organised the workshop at the accommodating 93 Luxury Suites with Colombian model/actress Tatiana de los Rios).
In a Word
Over the week we redefined words, and indeed, reality as it pertains to the craft. “Acting is a lifestyle,” Burrus told us, and warned against putting life pressure on top of work pressure but instead to “sense and experience the vibration.” A great deal of acting is repetition under pressure, and skill is applied when the words are repeated by the actor, and spoken as if for the first time by the character.
Technique, for example, means “an in depth understanding of cause and effect.” This is critical for actors as they create a cause that produces the effect of dialogue. It is through an action (physical and/or emotional) that the text is given life.
Talent, a loaded word indeed, was distilled to its purest essence by Burrus: Talent is connection. This clarity is both profound and troubling for the actor in the sense that it demands the actor truly be present at all times. So, perhaps, the observation “Leonardo DiCaprio is a talented actor,” might be rephrased as “Leonardo DiCaprio creates believable connections.”
The definition of “judgment” was also called into question. For actors, as could be said of most people, this word carries a lot of weight and can be poisonous. In its new form, judgment is “imposing your point of view on something or someone”; which is what actors are called on to do when creating a character. But, it can also be toxic in the sense that if we are judgey about fictional characters, then we risk (and often are) judgmental about the people and instances in our real lives. “Mental habits have an appetite that you feed through reactions,” Burrus advised. “Awareness is the ability to see what is without the need to do something about it.”
Each time they need to do another take or run the show again, actors are called upon to make the viewer believe that what they are seeing has never happened before. This is no easy task and requires the artist to employ not only his or her training, but one of the most powerful tools we all possess: Imagination. For the actor “imagination is a powerful preparatory tool with strong rules,” explained Burrus, but it is a skill that requires work, like a muscle. Imagination is particularly useful to help actors withstand the reality of repetition under pressure.
However, this tool should not be used to literally imagine how a character might feel something. “Don’t lay feelings on the scene, the feelings come from the scene,” advised Burrus. The specific reaction might change given the dynamics of any particular moment. That said, he guided us through the concept of applying specific emotional actions to any given response.
The actors at the workshop were clearly impressed by Burrus’ talent and experience. “Flying from Lima to do this workshop has been one of the best decisions of my life as an actress and as a person!” said Peruvian Alexandra Barandiaran. “In six days I’ve learned so much it overwhelms me and makes me absolutely happy, full and satisfied!”
Another student, professional Colombian musician and aspiring actor Juan Angulo added, “Ron has given us a new perspective, not only for acting but also for living. He gives us methods and exercises to practise in our life every single day.”
Argentine actor Santiago Garcia Rosa, who travelled from Buenos Aires to attend the workshop, told me, “The best thing about Ron is that everything he teaches, he is, you see it, you don’t see somebody talking about being present, etc. You see him being present.”
For me, the time with Burrus and the other students was stimulating, provoking, illuminating and fulfilling. He is a true master, and one that we were fortunate to have visit Bogotá, where this level of training simply does not exist.
Tigre Haller is the Founder and Artistic Director of The BAT – Bogota Anglo Theater